After a quirky début album, the Foo Fighters exploded onto the scene with The Colour and the Shape, an album of creative liberation for ex-Nirvana drummer and Foo frontman Dave Grohl. There Is Nothing Left to Lose came next, just before the end of the millennium, and confirmed that the previous album was no fluke. The difference between the two is that The Colour and the Shape is a dazzling array of musical styles while There Is Nothing Left to Lose has less diversity but stronger melodies.
You certainly don’t hear that distinction in the first song, “Stacked Actors,” which sounds like Dave is trying to violently expel the last traces of Nirvana from his system. It’s a grungy, tuneless effort where Dave screams and growls about his disgust with the L.A. scene (a disgust that led him and the rest of his now three-member band to record this album in far-off Virginia). Given his later sellout to the industry, Dave’s position on the virtues of Hollywood culture would evolve, turning him into the Mitt Romney of rock ‘n’ roll. He’s now buddy-buddy with all those “dead actors, stacked to the rafters,” making this song even more ridiculous in retrospect. Skip it.
“Breakout” probably would have been a better opener, and though it doesn’t qualify as particularly melodic either, it’s a much better rocker. By this time, Dave Grohl had finally found a drummer almost as good as . . . Dave Grohl. He’d rescued Taylor Hawkins from the clutches of Alanis Morissette, and while he doesn’t have the thunder of Grohl at his best, he combines sufficient force with excellent chops. He gives us a solid preview of his skills on “Breakout,” pounding out a strong bash with well-placed punctuation.
The other thing that characterized the pre-sellout Foo Fighters and was sadly lost when Dave Grohl started to take himself too seriously had to do their approach to music videos. The Foo Fighters made the funniest videos in the music business, satirizing the genre and the notion of rock stars being worship-worthy idols. The “Breakout” video is a hoot, and it’s not even the best from the album:
The honor for best video from There Is Nothing Left to Lose goes to “Learn to Fly,” a solid rocker with a strong melody, encouraging both pelvic movement and enthusiastic sing-alongs. The core verse arrangement with its combination of bright chords played over Taylor’s syncopated drum attack is irresistible, and Dave Grohl delivers a clean and spirited lead vocal throughout. One of the best-structured songs in the Foo Fighters catalog, “Learn to Fly” kicks ass and lifts the spirit. And the video, featuring stellar multi-character performances by all the band members, is an absolute hoot!
I love how they chose to open the film with a cheesy version of one of their best-known songs (“Everlong”) playing in the background, reminding us not to take them or any other rock stars too seriously. If only they’d meant it!
I haven’t mentioned the third leg of the Foo stool (that sounds gross—sorry), so I will now. Nate Mendel is a great bass player with several impressive performances on this album, including “Gimme Stitches.” This bouncy little number dominated by blood-and-guts metaphors for acrimonious relationships proves two things: one, that Dave Grohl is a hobbled lyricist at best; and two, that Nate Mendel knows how to drive a song all by himself. His disciplined but full-sounding approach to bass works wonders here, especially his subtle runs to that throb to a satisfying climax (that sounds sexual—not sorry).
The Foos continue the intensity with “Generator,” famous for Dave Grohl’s use of an electronic talk box that echoes Peter Frampton. The lyrics remain weak, but the pounding energy from Taylor Hawkins and solid bass from Nate Mandel make this a keeper. Here’s a live performance with the talk box in full view:
I have a deep attraction to heavy bass that fills the room without quite knocking the vases off the tables, so it’s no wonder that my favorite song on the album is “Aurora.” The main riff comes from the bass and fills me as satisfyingly as an engorged cock when it fills my vagina (no, boys, it’s not size, it’s the Four P’s: position, pressure, presence and panache). The song glides along as if you’re taking a quiet drive through the country, with a beautiful melody dancing lightly over the floor provided by Nate Mendel’s bass. Sadly, the erection collapses with a pffft in the next song, “Live in Skin,” a throwaway I often skip.
Dave Grohl’s fascination with space travel led to the creation of “Next Year,” a tale best told in the promotional video and not in the once-again lightweight lyrics. Please note that the music on the video is different from the version on the album. There is no “false ending” where the song appears to stop and comes back for one more round, which was unnecessary anyway. More importantly, Chris Shiflett, who would join the band after the release, sings harmony on a few lines. This is big because There Is Nothing Left to Lose is virtually harmony-free, one of the record’s greatest deficiencies. I felt that absence even more strongly after listening to “Lonely As You” from their next album, One by One, a song that features stand-up-and-applaud harmonies.
The lyrics become even more oblique in “Headwires,” but the song is rescued by the strong groove, pleasant melody and Taylor Hawkins’ nimble performance on the cymbals. The man is in the groove, ladies and gentlemen! It leads to Taylor’s favorite song on the album, the lush “Ain’t It the Life,” a slower number with a slight country feel and another memorable melody. “M. I. A.” closes the proceedings, a song that feels like an album-ending opus but falls short of achieving it due once again to fairly scattered lyrics. From a musical perspective, though, the song is solid, well-structured and appropriately melodic.
With the half-decent follow-up One by One, it’s obvious that Dave Grohl began thinking of himself more as a rock star than a musical artist. The circumstantial evidence is that the Grammy for There’s Nothing Left to Lose went to his head, deadening the frontal lobe enough for him to become very rich and very famous.
Fame and wealth often combine to lure musicians into a Venus fly trap that kills all artistic ambitions. Ben Gibbard of Death Cab went Hollywood, married Zooey Deschanel and lost his creative edge (their divorce has been celebrated by ghoulish fans in the hope that the split means a return to form). After Belle and Sebastian were featured in the New York Times Sunday Magazine their music became predictable and boring. A good album puts you on the industry radar, a second good one earns you a Grammy nomination and the third album can be half-crap, but when you’re rolling in dough and mommy’s proud of you, who gives a fuck about the quality of the music?